Understanding and Leveraging Philanthropic Foundations in Colorado's Urban Areas

Date: 10/1/2020
Principal Researchers: Todd Ely

Unit: School of Public Affairs

Project Abstract:
Government alone cannot address the challenges experienced by urban populations. Recognizing that government funding still overshadows philanthropic resources, foundations play an especially vital role in providing investments and risk capital in urban initiatives nationally and in Colorado. Indeed, it is difficult to look around our urban spaces without seeing the direct influence of our philanthropic foundations evidenced most prominently by the names on our medical, cultural, and educational buildings. In 2016, Colorado foundations held roughly $12 billion in assets and granted $1 billion. Since then, foundation resources and activities in the state have only continued to grow. 
Foundations increasingly consider approaches to “leverage” their assets for greater social impact. The proposed project advances efforts to maximize foundations’ impact in Colorado’s urban centers by asking two related questions. First, what is the landscape of Colorado’s urban-serving philanthropic foundations? Second, how can these foundations leverage their assets beyond traditional grant making for greater social impact in Colorado’s urban areas?

To answer these questions, we use primary and secondary data collection to: 1) create a foundation resource map of the state with a focus on the Front Range population centers, 2) gather evidence of existing innovative practices to maximize social impact by Colorado’s urban foundations, and 3) establish roadmaps/guides to assist foundations in responsibly leveraging foundation balance sheets using emerging practices like program related investments, mission related investments, credit enhancement/guarantees, and debt.

View project updates from the 2021 Fall Research Showcase [PDF]

Todd Ely Bio:
Todd Ely is associate professor in the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver and Director of the Center for Local Government Research and Training. He is interested in understanding how financial stewardship in public and nonprofit organizations can improve community impact. Todd’s research and teaching focus on the financing of public services, municipal debt, education finance and policy, and public and nonprofit financial management. His research targets both theory and practice. Todd joined the faculty at the University of Colorado Denver after earning his PhD in public administration from New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.


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